Ken Eckert Essays


But That Nice Paul Pot is Nothing Like His Dad
So We Just Take People's Word for It that "Justin Trudeau Isn't Pierre"?

By Ken Eckert

August 14, 2015

I try to keep my yap out of Canadian electoral politics and this October's election, because I'm not living in Canada anymore and because I don't want to antagonize friends, or to be defriended by the 5-6 people who might read this. Religion and politics. And let me make a quick concession that I'm no huge Stephen Harper fan; the man is competent but increasingly hidebound and arrogant. I'd even give a Mulcair NDP minority government a chance. The Chrétien Liberal government of the early 90s was a fairly responsible one and didn't do bad work in cleaning up after the drunkfest of the 70s. The Greens' Elizabeth May is loopy but intelligent. I work with many such people.

One of the difficult things for non-Canadians to understand is that the parties aren't terribly different ideologically, all rather hewing with that Canadian timidity to the slightly-left center in various degrees (the Albertans Against the NDP Facebook page is so politely milktoast it may as well be called "Sorry, may we jokingly critique our elected government, please?"). It's more so that Canadian provinces vote geographically, where the Progressive Conservatives are the "western" party, the Liberals the "eastern" one, and the New Democrats gathering rosebuds where they may. The PCs have made mistakes, but they're not really all that right-wing. Honest. A typical policy statement for the U.S. Republicans is "why should poor people expect water"; for the Canada PCs it's "maybe schools should distribute fewer free condoms to kindergartners."

But for Pete's sake, Canadians, I cannot believe this shit. There are historical reasons why Canada became so polarized geographically. The Liberal Party nominated Justin Trudeau as party leader in 2013, and there is a chance he may be Prime Minister in October. Do you not remember, or know, what this man's father put us through? My biggest question—and I mean really big puzzling question, about something which makes no cosmic sense at all (Why Sarah Palin? Why do people think Bob Dylan sounds good?)—is why would the Liberal party choose this man? To me, even if Justin were a great guy and statesman and could turn water into wine, what sane mind thought that trading on the surname "Trudeau" had cachet in winning over any voter over 40? Even if East Winsor MP Mary Stalin-Hitler is a great candidate, her name puts her at some electoral disadvantage.

The cause of my perturbation (and now I'm channeling Rex Murphy in my, uh, prolixities) is a recent blog called AlbertaPolitics giving a defense of Trudeau's National Energy Policy, which in the late 70's nationalized resources and forced Alberta to discount its oil to the federal government, losing the province some potential $50-100 billion in revenues and plunging it into deep recession (bankruptcies increased by 150%). The blog argues that it's unfair to blame the NEP or Trudeau, as oil prices fell in the early 80's anyway, which wasn't his fault. Screw you. All three of my brothers were out of work at one point because of the NEP. Even if true, and I'm not convinced, it somehow redeems Trudeau that world prices ruined the province's economy before his policies could? You know, it's unfair to blame poor Genghis Khan for intending to overrun Europe, because the Roman Empire's dissolution was hurting its economy anyway.

The NEP is also an isolated part of a larger set of disastrous domestic and foreign policies, founded on PET's state socialism, anti-Americanism, and wilfull insouciance. Some notes from Bob Plamandon's The Truth About Trudeau: While our grandfathers were bleeding in Europe and Asia, PET sat on his hands for WWII, doing nothing except to protest it; palled around with the communists in China, Cuba, and the USSR; pointlessly antagonized U.S. and European allies and trading partners; starved the military, previously "a serious second-tier non-nuclear military power" under Pearson; created a culture of unemployment insurance dependency in the atlantic; began a pattern of bribing Quebec to remain within confederation; forced constitutional changes giving judges authority to void parliamentary acts onto the country without consultation; bankrupted the treasury; hampered foreign investment; and destroyed his own party's electoral chances in the west (in 1980 there was one Liberal seat west of Ontario). Despite the fawning, cloying, round-the-clock CBC coverage of PET's funeral, international notables attending included... Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter (who was probably too kind to decline).

Again, I won't defend Stephen Harper's record with much enthusiasm. But the statement that "anyone is better than Harper" is fatuous from a historical perspective. When Trudeau left government in 1984, "government spending had skyrocketed to almost 53%... with half of Canadians working directly or indirectly for Ottawa." At $128 billion, government debt was ten times what it was when he took office in 1968. Two provinces had elected separatists in their legislatures (Quebec and Alberta). After Trudeau had treated Nixon, Thatcher, and Reagan with public hostility and insults, the Americans congress was turning against Canada. To quote historian David Frum at length:

Pierre Trudeau was a spending fool. He was not alone in that, in the 1970s. But here’s where he was alone. No contemporary leader of an advanced industrial economy – not even the German Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt or the British socialist James Callaghan – had so little understanding as Pierre Trudeau of the private market economy. “Little understanding?” I should have said: “active animosity.” Trudeau believed in a state-led economy, and the longer he lasted in office, the more statist he became. The Foreign Investment Review Agency was succeeded by Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was succeeded by wage and price controls. Wage and price controls were succeeded by the single worst economic decision of Canada’s 20th century: the National Energy Program.

This is not "ancient history and someone else." PET's policy failures are real and lasting ones which still burden the country, and which simply aren't adequately recognized in the sentimentalization of his ego. The reason I came to Korea is because I was driven out of my own nation by student loans, the result of harsh provincial transfer cutbacks Mulroney and Chrétien were forced to make after dealing with the financial mess in Ottawa (and I'm not exaggerating: a near default on its debt), after years of wasteful programs and policy irresponsibility. While PET did not cause oil prices to fall, his socialist experiments and statism exacerbated Alberta's problems. The impression that was given to Albertans, that Ontario and Quebec's "colonies" must subsidize them but never receive help, has been entrenched since 19th-century rail "crow rates" were established to force western farmers to buy machinery from Ontario. The NEP and its aftermath solidified this regional antagonism. I grew up seeing the bumper sticker "Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark," based on Premier Peter Lougheed's comments. A town council meeting in Alberta in 2000 is recorded as applauding upon hearing about Trudeau's death. The bitterness is real and, whether AlbertaPolitics sees the province's people as uppity, ungrateful colonists or not, it still infects national politics.

Yes, I know that Justin Trudeau is not Pierre Eliot Trudeau. But spare me the moralizing that I can't blame the son for the father; I've read of no substantial disavowal from Justin of his father's policies or beliefs (or, well, substance generally), and if Justin can leverage that legacy to put himself into national politics it's fair to judge him in terms of that legacy. Last, if you see no problem with electoral family dynasties, do not whine about Jeb Bush on that basis. Mostly I've seen the statement "he's not his father" thrown out as some sort of fact which is axiomatically true and meant to close the subject. If Saddam "Corky" Hussein Jr. were running for president of Iraq, would it be sufficient for people to say, "Oh, come on, it's not fair to blame him for the old man"? Or would it be reasonable to ask for some evidence of differing values and intentions in his statements and actions before handing him the state machine gun?

This situation is also not good for the Liberal party long-term. I don't want to see the party wither; a multi-party system is beneficial in Canada to help avoid the binary two-party standoffs endemic to the U.S., where one party would condemn bunnies and kittens if the other praised them. It's because of this system that I wish the Liberals had chosen better than to trade on nepotism. Again, regardless of Justin's character, I remain astonished that the public would consider electing the son of the country's worst prime minister in history without asking more questions about if or how he would do things otherwise. Justin's refusal to allow party MPs who do not agree with him on abortion (credited to his father's "principles"); his praise for China's system of government as the best one; his 2010 remark that "Canada isn’t doing well because it’s Albertans who control both the community and socio-democratic agenda"; his policy plan to grow the economy "from the heart outwards" (thanks for that); and his inability to decide whether Islamic terrorists really are bad or not, similarly arguing that the Boston Bombers felt "excluded" and it's our job to reduce their "tensions," do not reassure me that he is.

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